Aiming to please fans of both traditional and modern Sonic titles, Sega have included both styles in one game. Surprisingly this hasn’t resulted in the partial disaster I expected. But is Sonic still capable of a decent result in a genre that has unfortunately all but faded?
We find ourselves taking turns to play as the 2D side-scrolling scamp of old and the free-moving chatty rail-grinder. Time travel is the logic behind this merging of styles, as modern-day Sonic joins forces with his younger 1990s self. Together they must defeat Dr. Robotnik and Dr. Eggman, essentially two versions of the same villain. In addition to the fat moustachioed one(s), there’s a sinister creature that caused the time rift in the first place.
The cutscenes are basic, but manage to separate the two Sonics clearly enough. Old school Sonic is short and silent, and uses endearing motions. New Sonic is lanky with Final Fantasy hair and an annoying voice-over. New Sonic has one of his gang of crayon-chewing, reprobate, cheap toy-looking friends released after each zone. Knuckles and Tails were ok back in the day thanks to their abilities. But these chumps...roadkill in waiting.
Familiar locations from a wide selection of Sonic games have been repurposed for modern day consoles. Act 1 of each world is for 2D Sonic, while Act 2 is the domain of the 3D-fancier with Sonic generally running into or towards the screen as seen in the Dreamcast days of Sonic Adventure.
When I say familiar locations, I really mean it. Green Hill Zone is recreated almost piece by piece. Again. It was only Sonic 4 Episode 1 where we saw re-imaginings of old haunts and yet again, Sega have failed to come up with any surprises. An unlockable video of some series highlights shows just how much material has been robbed. Yes, the excuse will be the time-travel element to the story, but the story was clearly secondary to the design. But goddamn, the levels are gorgeous to look at, a celebration of sunny colours and speed if ever there was one.
3D Sonic, has a homing attack that for enemies that can also be used to zoom towards launch-pads. Unfortunately, the target prompt is unreliable, meaning you’ll often miss, fire yourself off the edge and fall to your doom. When it clicks into place and you cross vast amounts of space by bouncing off balloons, springs and robots, it feels awesome, especially with the stylish camera angles that really accentuate the action. Other familiar 3D Sonic problems return, such as him being unable to run in a straight line. This is most noticeable when you’re trying to collect rings.
When 3D Sonic is going at full pelt, it’s a remarkable sight. However, you can’t help but feel that you’re responsible for very little as he’s either sliding along on rails or you’re just holding down the square button for the speed boost.
2D Sonic is faithfully basic, gone is the suicidal lock-on attack from Sonic 4. The turbo ground-spin from Sonic 2 remains and can be used without having to bring Sonic to a complete halt which is a handy touch. A new powerup allows him to turn into a sticky razorball that can climb walls for a brief time. It’s a bit clunky, but it serves as a decent distraction for some brief navigation puzzles.
2D stages vary in quality as they generally lack the fun-factor of the 3D ones. I never thought I’d prefer 3D Sonic in this game. I sicken myself at times. Travelling slowly as either Sonic is a cumbersome process that makes you realise that Sonic’s basic platforming has aged terribly. The design of the levels doesn’t help either. Basic box jumping is often trickier than it should be thanks to higher platforms always being just about within a jump’s reach, leaving very little margin for error. The jumps are very fast and twitchy, making mid-air corrections for smaller platforms very difficult. 2D and 3D platforming just feels like you’re jumping into the wind all the time.
Each level is ranked, with time being the biggest factor. Later levels can take ten minutes to finish on your first pass through. Each stage is built to be faster if you can take the highest route. Linked by rails and springs, you can knock minutes off your times by aiming high. Miss a jump though and you can end up at the bottom, with lots of slow platforming sections to get back the middle or the top. Leaderboard chasing fans will definitely get something from trying to nail these higher routes for frighteningly quick times, but everyone else will find the game’s mechanics clumsy.
Each Act has hidden Red Star rings to collect. These will eventually unlock a third act for each zone. Yes, rare collectible items in a Sonic game. A game where you generally fly through the landscape at 100 miles per hour, suddenly wants you to keep your eye out for small icons. It’s a cheap way to give the game some replay value. But seeing how badly the game handles at low speeds, only the truly hardcore or thrifty gamer will bother.
The game boasts over 100 levels, but this is an over-inflated figure, with the vast majority of them being side-mission challenges where you have to beat time limits, collect items, or hit targets. You’ll need to do a small number of them to unlock Boss fights. Sadly, there are only four boss fights in the whole game. They’re just remixes of old ones except for the final one, which easily takes the prize for most disappointing and irrelevant in the series yet. It’s no wonder Robotnik never wins, he’s been using the same old machines for 20 years. It just feels so damningly self-deluded throughout. The saddest moment came when modern Sonic says to his younger self, “Hey Sonic, enjoy your future, it’s going to be great!”
- Best graphics Sonic’s ever seen
- 3D sections are exciting
- Some signs of the old school glory returning
- Lock-on for launch attacks still hates you
- Same old levels and bosses
- Sonic’s friends are t***s
The Short Version: The graphics and camera-action are exceptionally impressive and despite the heavily automated feel of much of the 3D sections, they’re very enjoyable. The bosses and lack of level design imagination will have long-suffering Sonic fans grinding their teeth. This is better than many recent efforts from Sonic, but looking back, that’s not saying much. Sega, tighten up the controls and design some new stages or just stop.